The Guardian attacked celebrity nepotism this weekend, training its sights on eighteen-year-old Brooklyn Beckham for the crime of securing a deal to author a coffee table photography book. You’d never find nepotism on Fleet Street, of course, where advancement is solely based on merit. Especially at the Guardian, where until recently former editor Alan Rusbridger had not only his wife but also his daughter writing for the paper at the same time. Comment writer Lindsay Mackie (AKA Mrs Rusbridger) still pens the odd piece under the new regime; daughter Bella Mackie (AKA Miss Rusbridger) started out as the ‘Community Editor’ for Comment Is Free and is now a senior editor at VICE. If only his dad worked there Brooklyn could be the Guardian’s football reporter…
Yesterday the Scott Trust, owners of the Guardian, met to discuss whether Alan Rusbridger would take over as chair as agreed two years ago. The Trust was split on whether this should still happen – current editor Kath Viner and GMG chief exec David Pemsel particularly opposed Rusbridger’s return amid staff outcry and swingeing cuts. Today Rusbridger has confirmed he is out. Coup successful…
Read his email in full:
Dear former colleagues
I wanted to let you know I will not be returning to Chair the Scott Trust later this year. Many of you will know what the Scott Trust has meant to me and for Guardian journalism. It is so unique that not many people – externally, or, sometimes, even internally – truly appreciate the crucial role it has had over many years in nurturing, resourcing and protecting what we do. When, in late 2014, the Scott Trust appointed me to succeed Liz as chair I was beyond honoured. But much has changed in the year since I stepped down. All newspapers – and many media organisations beyond – have been battered by turbulent and economic forces that were difficult to foresee last summer.
On my appointment to the Scott Trust job in November 2014 the Chair of GMG, Neil Berkett, was kind enough to say publicly : “Alan has set the standard for journalistic leadership in the digital age. His appointment to lead The Scott Trust coincides with rapidly rising readership, continued innovation and secure finances at the Guardian. His successor will inherit a global media organisation in very strong health and with clear prospects for further growth.” The difference between that assessment and the way things look now is a measure of how much the world has changed. I have been on the Trust long enough to understand its role.
We all currently do our journalism in the teeth of a force 12 digital hurricane. It is surely obvious to anyone that changed circumstances will demand dramatically changed solutions. Kath and David clearly believe they would like to plot a route into the future with a new chair and I understand their reasoning. I have a fantastically interesting new life in Oxford. I will miss you all. You have been the most wonderful colleagues and we achieved really amazing things together. I continue to read with immense admiration the journalism the Guardian and Observer produce. It’s all the more enjoyable for having played no part in it.
Thanks to all of you who have quietly emailed support in the past few weeks. And very best wishes to all as you negotiate the storms currently affecting pretty much everyone in our industry. We will come through….
In GQ, Michael Wolff reveals Alan Rusbridger’s view of the Guardian:
“For more than a decade Rusbridger has held [the] assumption that the Guardian, that most British of British left-wing institutions, was finished in the UK… Rusbridger is said to be unwavering in his belief… the Guardian’s UK business is dying… the Guardian is either a thing of the past or on a suicide mission.”
The Guardian’s Ed Snowden coverage in 2014 led to a series of high-profile awards, notably a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy. So what on earth was this gong doing on sale in a Richmond Oxfam?
Guido dispatched a roving reporter to find out…
Apparently an unidentified benefactor turned up at the Oxfam on Friday afternoon and handed the Pulitzer in. It was quickly snapped up for a fiver by a mysterious telephone bidder just before the store closed, though Guido managed to get his hands on the Guardian‘s Emmy for just £4.99.
The prizes were most likely wall hangings for senior journalist’s offices. Guido’s new intern has only been here a week and he’s already landed an Emmy…
Rusbridger was banged out of the building by his staff last week. His successor is Katharine Viner:
He wrote his own obituary for his editorship in his last paper, it seems only right that the Guardian’s fiercest critics should have a look back as well.
Rusbridger bet big on digital; The Times, Telegraph and cash-starved Indy don’t really match The Guardian in the quality of their digital offer. Rusbridger decided on digital first before the other papers – some of which still hold back the best stories for the second edition to serve yesterday’s news in tomorrow’s papers – which doesn’t really cut it in the digital age. The second big bet was on a “free-to-air” model with no internet paywall. The Mail and The Guardian are both close to making this work financially, the jury is still out as to if the greater scale of advertising will trump paywall subscriptions. The Guardian’s mobile app is quite simply way ahead of any other British newspaper’s app.
Rusbridger maintained the liberal traditions of the paper, it is safe to say the editorial values of the Guardian and Guido clash. We’re believers in the liberating power and prowess of capitalism in raising living standards for all. They’re hand-wringing worriers about social justice who want to tax us into equality. So much for economics as politics by other means. However we’re admirers of the tenacity with which Rusbridger pursued some stories – phone hacking was mostly indefensible, the Snowden revelations were in the public interest, as were the Wikileaks revelations – which they handled well in the circumstances.
Rusbridger’s Guardian lost money, this along with their shifty offshore assets tax hypocrisy was a constant theme of ours for years. Guido believes that profit is the best guarantor of independence. A multiplicity of revenue streams means never being so dependent that you are compromised. The Guardian’s business model has profit as a secondary consideration, having succeeded in creating a massive tax efficient endowment from selling Auto Trader. If they don’t overspend too much that will last them for many decades yet and, even if they do, Liz Forgan told Guido that she could see a few billionaires endowing their brand of liberal journalism in perpetuity.
On balance as a news brand Rusbridger’s Guardian is a triumph, as a business less so. However, to be fair, who in the newspaper business has been more successful?
Two anecdotes: Guido was once cornered at an awards ceremony by Rusbridger’s two daughters, they physically pinned him to a pillar and berated him for an age – in no uncertain terms – for being sexist and, far more importantly, mean to their father. On recounting this story to Alan he literally beamed with fatherly pride.
Some years before that, at a think-tank lunch, Rusbridger was the guest speaker and positively glared at Guido throughout his talk on the difficulties of keeping a newspaper viable in the dawning digital age. When it came for questions he seized the moment to have a go back at Guido. Pointing his finger, he sneered “you’d probably be glad to see us go under, wouldn’t you, well?” At this point Guido turned to the chairman of the lunch: “This is under Chatham House rules, isn’t it? None of us can report who says what?” The chairman nodded. Guido turned back to Rusbridger, “Whenever I am abroad on holiday it is the paper I choose to buy for the breadth and depth of coverage. You edit one of the greatest papers in the world.” Deflated, Alan slumped back in his chair with a bemused grin…
So, farewell then Alan Rusbridger, stepping down today after 20 years as editor of the Guardian.
Since Rusbridger took the helm in 1995, Guardian Media Group has declared operating costs of £4,495,292,000 for their national newspaper subsidiary.
Around £230 million-a-year in the later years.
What you might call big cheque book journalism…